OVER the last three weeks, as the devout leave mosques in Jalgaon’s Mehrun after Friday prayers, they head for the tables against the boundary walls to sign an affidavit to be filed in court soon. Since July 21, when the exercise began, about 2,550 persons have signed this affidavit to be filed in the Bombay High Court, according to Anees Ahmed (35), who took the lead in the drive to vouch for the “innocence” of Asif Basheer Khan in the 7/11 Mumbai suburban train blasts in 2006.
Khan (42), who hails from Jalgaon and grew up to be a civil engineer, was convicted by a special Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act court in Mumbai in 2015 for involvement in the blasts. He was among the 12 convicted and among the five sentenced to death. The affidavit, copies of which will be annexed to Khan’s appeal against conviction in the Bombay High Court, states that he is an “innocent person”. “I admit that I know him. He was/is a good person for the society. I say & I believe that the ATS falsely implicated him in Malegaon bomb blast case of 2006 and 7/11 local train serial blast case as well. I say that he should not be hanged and deserves to be released forthwith,” states the affidavit.
“Asif was my senior in college. Right from the time he was arrested, I knew he would have had nothing to do with this (7/11). But at the time, we feared that we too would be implicated if we tried to defend him. But since one man was acquitted in the case, we have gathered the courage to speak up,” said Zahid Sayyed, who signed the affidavit on July 21. Ahmed, who is spearheading the drive to collect the affidavits, said, “On the first Friday, we collected about 1,000 such affidavits outside Aqsa Masjid, on the second Friday outside Omar Masjid about 900 people signed and on the last Friday, about 600 more outside Raza Masjid. We also went door-to- door to collect signatures of women.”
However, sources familiar with the Maharashtra ATS’s probe into the 7/11 blasts said the affidavits filed as annexures to the appeal will have no evidentiary value before the high court. “An appellate court steps into the shoes of the trial court, re-examines the evidence before it and decides whether the trial court’s decision was right or wrong. What was not before the trial court cannot be imported. These affidavits can only be used to influence public opinion,” said a legal officer.
Sentenced to death by the trial court, Khan was accused of harbouring Pakistani terrorists in the Mira Road area of suburban Mumbai. Police claim he was responsible for procuring pressure cookers and helped in assembling the bombs that exploded on local trains in Mumbai on July 11, 2006 leaving 189 dead.
He is also accused of having planted the bomb that went off in Borivali. The engineer from Jalgaon was allegedly a known SIMI member. Khan was also accused in the 2006 Malegaon blast. However, a sessions court discharged nine men, including Khan, in the case in April 2016 after the NIA told the court it had no evidence against them. The Maharashtra government has challenged the decision in the high court.